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Importance of Mental Health in Adolescents

Mental health awareness has increased within recent years, but mental health issues have increased along with it. According to the CDC, “more than 1 in 3 high school students had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, a 40 percent increase since 2009. [Furthermore], in 2019, approximately 1 in 6 youth reported making a suicide plan in the past year, a 44% increase since 2009” [1]. 

There are many different mental disorders affecting adolescent populations around the world. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health issues, as they are both affecting our adolescent population in the United States. Depression and anxiety are both emotional disorders, and they “share some of the same symptoms, including rapid and unexpected changes in mood” [2]. “Anxiety disorders (which may involve panic or excessive worry) are the most prevalent in this age group and are more common among older than among younger adolescents. It is estimated that 3.6% of 10-14 year-olds and 4.6% of 15-19 year-olds experience an anxiety disorder. Depression is estimated to occur among 1.1% of adolescents aged 10-14 years, and 2.8% of 15-19-year-olds” [2]. Along with emotional disorders like anxiety and depression, other mental health issues “more common among younger adolescents than older adolescents” are behavioral disorders [2]. 

A couple of behavioral disorders common amongst younger adolescents include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder. ADHD is “characterized by difficulty paying attention, excessive activity and acting without regard to consequences” [2]. Conduct disorder involves “symptoms of destructive or challenging behaviour” [2]. Like anxiety and depression, behavioral disorders such as ADHD and conduct disorder can affect adolescents’ education and their academic performance. Also, “conduct disorder may result in criminal behaviour” [2]. 

Eating disorders are also an issue amongst our adolescent population. “Eating disorders involve abnormal eating behaviour and preoccupation with food, accompanied in most instances by concerns about body weight and shape” [2]. Common eating disorders that start in adolescence include anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Another interesting thing to note about anorexia nervosa is that it “has higher mortality than any other mental disorder” [2]. 

As for those in later adolescence, psychosis, suicide, and self-harm should be of more concern. “Conditions that include symptoms of psychosis most commonly emerge in late adolescence or early adulthood. Symptoms can include hallucinations or delusions” [2]. Similar to the mental disorders we’ve gone over above, symptoms of psychosis can very heavily affect an individual’s life, and for adolescents, this means their education and social development could be at stake. As for suicide and self-harm, “suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in older adolescents (15-19 years. Risk factors for suicide are multifaceted, and include harmful use of alcohol, abuse in childhood, stigma against help-seeking, barriers to accessing care and access to means of suicide” [2]. From this information, we might be able to better understand how much an adolescent’s environment can affect their mental health and how they are able to cope with poor mental health. 

Lastly, risk-taking behaviors are also an emerging issue during adolescence. “Risk-taking behaviours can be an unhelpful strategy to cope with emotional difficulties and can severely impact an adolescent’s mental and physical well-being” [2]. This relates to the information above mentioning barriers to the right care for mental disorders. For example, “worldwide, the prevalence of heavy episodic drinking among adolescents aged 15­-19 years was 13.6% in 2016, with males most at risk” [2]. Access to alcohol and other drugs is more prevalent than access or the encouragement or ability to access the healthcare adolescents need to address and improve upon their mental disorders. 

Although it is frustrating that many people still don’t prioritize mental health, much less mental health in adolescents, there are ways that our society has progressed in order to provide more mental health support to our adolescent population, and there are also ways you can help the adolescents in your life. “Mental health promotion and prevention interventions aim to strengthen an individual's capacity to regulate emotions, enhance alternatives to risk-taking behaviours, build resilience for managing difficult situations and adversity, and promote supportive social environments and social networks” [2]. Examples of mental health programs like these might include clubs at high schools or colleges that provide healthy coping methods and build a sense of community for those experiencing mental health disorders. Even social media can help by finding groups or following hashtags that promote prioritizing your mental health. If you are a parent or guardian, there are also some ways you can help your adolescent(s) at home. You could do the following [3]:

  • Encourage them to share their feelings

  • Take the time to support them

  • Work through conflict together

  • Care for yourself

These four things might not seem revolutionary, but they can be for your child’s mental health. Encouraging them to talk about their feelings, no matter how big or small they may seem at the moment, helps them learn that their feelings do matter and that you truly do care about what’s going on in their lives and in their heads. What matters is that you’re acknowledging their feelings and giving them an outlet to voice their feelings or concerns. Taking the time to support them ties right into this, too; if you see them struggling with something like homework, see if you can do anything to help them, encourage them, or see if your explanation of what they’re struggling with might be easier to understand than the teacher’s or textbook’s. If they seem tired from homework, their job, or sports, let them know it’s more than okay to take a break and unwind before too much pressure builds up inside of them; or, if they express to you that they do feel like they’re under a lot of pressure, evaluate what you could do or encourage them to do to alleviate it, and evaluate yourself to see if you might be adding to the pressure in any way. 

Working through conflict not only shows your child that you care, but it also helps them learn how to communicate effectively and in a healthy manner. Being honest with them will encourage them to be honest with you, too. This leads to the fact that caring for yourself will help them, too. If you feel stressed or overwhelmed, remember that it is perfectly okay to ask for help from friends and family. If your child sees you asking for and accepting help, they’ll know it’s okay for them to do the same when they need to. Also, take time for yourself and relax if you need to. Whatever relaxing means to you, whether it’s reading a novel, exercising, seeing friends, playing board games, etc., make sure you’re carving time out for yourself to do it. Again, this will set a great example for your child and teach them that taking breaks to rest and re-energize is important and necessary for everyone’s mental health. 

Hopefully this article has taught you something new and useful when it comes to our adolescents’ mental health and how we can help them. Remember, it’s important to listen to and acknowledge what our adolescents are saying so we know what we can do, as a society, to help them understand and prioritize their mental health and grow into a generation that will do better for the next generation.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, February 13). Mental health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

2. World Health Organization. 92021, November 17). Adolescent Mental Health. World Health Organization.

3. Four Things You Can Do to Support Your Teen's Mental Health. UNICEF Parenting. (n.d.). 



Author: Lauryn Agron

Editor: Kayjah Taylor

Health scientist: Catherine Sarwat

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